On June 18, 2016, one of Facebook’s most senior executives sent out a shocking memo telling employees that there could be negative consequences of the company’s growth, including getting people killed, but these consequences were “justified.”
Facebook VP Andrew “Boz” Bosworth wrote the internal memo, obtained by Buzzfeed, which had never before been seen outside of the company, to “shore up the troops” and keep their morale high.
“We connect people. Period. That’s why all the work we do in growth is justified. All the questionable contact importing practices. All the subtle language that helps people stay searchable by friends. All of the work we do to bring more communication in. The work we will likely have to do in China some day, all of it,” Bosworth wrote.
“So we connect more people,” he continued.“That can be bad if they make it negative. Maybe it costs someone a life by exposing someone to bullies. Maybe someone dies in a terrorist attack coordinated on our tools.”
Bosworth’s memo reveals that Facebook’s senior management has always understood that there many risks associated what they were doing. The company has known about both physical and social risks of connecting people, gathering personal data, and using their social media platform. In public, however, the company has always downplayed those risks.
The potentially explosive memo is important because it shows that even the most senior people at Facebook have had second thoughts about what they were doing. Bosworth has been with Zuckerberg since the beginning of Facebook’s existence, and he has always been a big supporter and defender of Facebook’s mission and approach.
The company is now under attack for improper use of the data it collects from user. This is an international scandal which has led to calls for government regulation and has also seen the market value of the company drop by more than $60 billion. They are also being sued for civil rights violations.
Yet still, the company does not seem willing to substantially change what it’s doing.
The memo is evidence of “state of mind” and even intent: it shows that Facebook executives put a higher priority on achieving growth over everything else. And it worked — Facebook has 2 billion users and is looking to expand into China.
But at what cost has this growth come? And do people care about the negative consequences of that growth? Do they justify their questionable data collection and manipulative treatment of their users in the name of profits and increasing stock prices? Do they really care if they help people get killed or if they enable terrorism?
After the memo was obtained by Buzzfeed, Bosworth issued this statement:
“I don’t agree with the post today and I didn’t agree with it even then when I wrote it. The purpose of this post, like many others I have written internally, was to bring to the surface issues I felt deserved much discussion with the broader company. Having a debate around hard topics like these is a critical part of our process and to do that effectively, we have to be able to consider even bad ideas, if only to eliminate them.”
Although he made no comment at the time of Bosworth’s memo, Mark Zuckerberg did issue a statement after Buzzfeed published the story:
“Boz is a talented leader who says many provocative things. This was one that most people at Facebook including myself disagreed with strongly. We’ve never believed the ends justify the means. We recognize that connecting people isn’t enough by itself. We also need to work to bring people closer together. We changed our whole mission and company focus to reflect this last year.”
The controversial memo was written and posted by Bosworth for Facebook employees’ eyes just one day after the shooting death of a Chicago man was captured on Facebook Live, the company’s livestreaming product.